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Kathryn Lester BSC DPhil

kathryn Lester

Associate Director




  • Lecturer, School of Psychology, University of Sussex (2015 – to present)
  • Lecturer, SGDP Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London (2012-to present)
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow, SGDP Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London (2010-2012) investigating gene environment interplay in determining response to psychological treatments for childhood anxiety
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CATTLab, School of Psychology, University of Sussex (2007-2010) investigating the intergenerational transmission of fear from mother to child
  • Medical Research Council DPhil studentship, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford (2004-2008) investigating the causal role of interpretation biases and cognitive errors for anxiety and depression
  • BSc Psychology student (1:1), Department of Psychology, University College London (2001-2004)

Research Overview

My research uses a range of cognitive, behavioural and genetic methods to understand the risk and protective mechanisms involved in the onset and maintenance of emotional difficulties. I am particularly interested in how individual differences in how people attend to, interpret and learn about positive and negative stimuli in their environment contribute to the development and treatment of emotional problems, especially childhood anxiety. Current projects are exploring bias modification techniques as a means of altering biases in information processing and potentially reducing risk for anxiety in childhood. I am also studying whether individual differences in the malleability of information processing biases predicts emotional response to a range of environmental influences. My current research also explores the interplay between genes and environment in determining response to psychological therapy, a field we named therapygenetics. Finally, I have an interest in the role of parenting, parenting beliefs and cognitions and the transmission of anxiety and anxiety-linked cognitive biases from parent to child.



  • International Society for Psychiatric Genetics, Early Career Investigator Award (2011)
  • Dean’s List for Academic Excellence (Psychology), University College London (2004)
  • C.G. Drew Undergraduate Prize (Psychology), University College London (2003)


  • Cumulative genetic plasticity as a predictor of psychological treatment response: Cognitive behaviour therapy for child anxiety disorders. Jacobs Foundation, £25,970
  • Genome-wide expression change over the course of exposure-based psychological therapy. Biomedical Research Centre and Dementia Unit Experimental Clinical Trials Pilot Funding Awards £24,000.
  • Attention Bias Modification (ABM): Development and testing of a school-based “Cognitive Vaccine” for the reduction and prevention of child anxiety. (October 2012 - October 2014), £238,927 (FEC £298,557).
  • Experimental Psychology Society: Grindley Grant for Conference Attendance (2009), £464
  • MRC Postgraduate Research Studentship (2004-2007)

Selected publications

  1. Keers, R., Coleman, J.R.I., Lester, K.J., Roberts, S., Breen, G., GxT Clinical team, Lewis, C., Plomin, R., & Eley, T.C. (2016). A genome-wide test of the differential susceptibility hypothesis reveals a genetic predictor of differential response to psychological treatments for child anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. doi: 10.1159/000444023
  2. Coleman, J. R. I.; Lester, K. J.; Curtis, C. J.; Roberts, S.; Keers, R.; GxT clinical team, Breen, G.* & Eley, T. C.* (2016). A Genome-Wide Association Study of response to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in child anxiety. British Journal of Psychiatry. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.115.168229
  3. Lester, K. J.*; Roberts, S.;*, Coleman, J. R. I.; Breen, G.; Xu, X., Keers, R.; GxT clinical team; & Eley, T. C. (2016). Non-replication of the association between 5HTTLPR and response to psychological therapy for child anxiety disorders. British Journal of Psychiatry, 208, 182-188. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.114.154997
  4. Brown, H. M., Meiser-Stedman, R., Woods, H. & Lester, K. J. (2016). Cognitive vulnerabilities for depression and anxiety in childhood: Specificity in associations with rumination and anxiety sensitivity dimensions. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 4(1):30-42. doi:10.1017/S1352465814000472
  5. Ewing, D. L., Dash, S., Thompson, E. J., Hazell, C., Hughes, Z., Lester, K. J., & Cartwright-Hatton, S. (2016). No significant evidence of cognitive biases for emotional stimuli in children at-risk of developing anxiety disorders. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. doi: 10.1007/s10802-015-0122-8.
  6. Waszczuk, M. A., Brown, H. M., Eley, T. C., & Lester, K. J. (2015). Attentional Control Theory in Middle Childhood: Enhanced Attentional Capture by Non-emotional and Emotional Distractors in Anxiety and Depression. PLoS One, 10(11): e0141535 . doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141535
  7. Wong, C. C. Y., Parsons, M. J., Lester, K. J., Burrage, J., Roberts, S., Eley, T. C., Mill, J., Dempster, E. L., Gregory, A. M. (2015).  Epigenome-wide DNA methylation analysis of monozygotic twins discordant for diurnal preference. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 18, 662-669. doi:10.1017/thg.2015.78
  8. Roberts, S., Keers, R., Lester, K.J., Coleman, J.R.I., Breen, G.; GxT Clinical team, Eley, T. C. & Wong, C.C.Y. (2015) HPA axis related genes and response to psychological therapies: genetics and epigenetics. Depression and Anxiety, 32, 861-870. 10.1002/da.22430
  9. Hudson, J. L.*; Keers, R.*; Roberts, S.; Coleman, J. R. I.; Breen, G.; Wong, C. C. Y.; GxT clinical team, Lester, K. J.* & Eley, T. C.* (2015). Clinical predictors of response to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in pediatric anxiety disorders: the Genes for Treatment (GxT) study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 54, 454-463. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2015.03.018 (joint senior author).
  10. Lester, K. J., Lisk, S. C., Mikita, N., Mitchell, S., Huijding, J., Rinck, M., & Field, A. P. (2015). The effects of verbal information and approach-avoidance training on children’s fear-related responses. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 48, 40-49. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.01.008
  11. Brown, H. M.; Lester, K. J.; Jassi, A. & Krebs, G. (2014). Paediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression: clinical correlates and CBT treatment response. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43, 933-942. doi: 10.1007/s10802-014-9943-0
  12. Roberts, S., Lester, K. J.; Hudson, J. L.; Rapee, R. M.; Creswell, C. Cooper, P.; Coleman, J. R. I.; Breen, G.; Wong, C. C. Y.*; & Eley, T. C.* (2014). Serotonin transporter methylation and response to cognitive behavior therapy in children with anxiety disorders. Translational Psychiatry, 4, e444. doi: 10.1038/tp.2014.83
  13. Dempster, E. L.; Wong, C. C. Y.; Lester, K. J.; Burrage, J., Gregory, A. M., Mill, J. & Eley, T. C. (2014). Genome-wide methylomic analysis of monozygotic twins discordant for adolescent depression. Biological Psychiatry, 76(12), 977-983. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.04.013
  14. Parsons M.J., Lester K.J., Barclay N.L., Archer, S. N., Nolan P.M., Eley T.C., and Gregory A.M. (2014). Polymorphisms in the circadian expressed genes PER3 and ARNTL2 are associated with diurnal preference and GNβ3 with sleep measures. Journal of Sleep Research, 23(5), 595-604. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12144
  15. Brown, H. M., Eley, T. C., Broeren, S., MacLeod, C., Rinck, M., Hadwin, J. A., & Lester, K. J. (2014) Psychometric properties of reaction time based experimental paradigms measuring anxiety-related information-processing biases in children. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 28(1), 97-107. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2013.11.004
  16. Lau, J.Y.F., Lester, K.J., Hodgson, K. and Eley, T.C. (2014). The genetics of mood disorders. In I. H. Gotlib and C.L. Hammen (Eds.), Handbook of Depression. New York: Guildford Publications, Inc.
  17. Hudson J. L.,* Lester, K. J.,* Lewis, C. M., Tropeano, M. T., Creswell, C., Collier, D. A., Cooper, P., Lyneham, H. J., Morris, T., Rapee, R. M., Roberts, S., Donald, J., and Eley, T. C. (2013). Predicting outcomes following cognitive behaviour therapy in child anxiety disorders: the influence of genetic, demographic and clinical information. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(10), 1086-1094 (joint first author). doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12092
  18. Parsons M.J., Lester K.J., Barclay N.L., Nolan P.M., Eley T.C., and Gregory A.M. (2013) Replication of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) loci for sleep in the British G1219 cohort.  American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics, 162(5), 431-438. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32106
  19. Brown, H. M., McAdams, T. C., Lester, K. J., Goodman, R., Clark, D. M., & Eley, T. C. (2013). Attentional threat avoidance and familial risk are independently associated with childhood anxiety disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(6), 678-685. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12024
  20. Broeren, S. and Lester, K.J. (2013). Relevance is in the eye of the beholder: Attentional bias to relevant stimuli in children. Emotion, 13(2), 262-269. doi: 10.1037/a0030598
  21. Lester, K. J. and Eley, T. C. (2013). Therapygenetics: Using genetic markers to predict response to psychological treatment for mood and anxiety disorders. Biology of Mood and Anxiety Disorders, 3:4. doi: 10.1186/2045-5380-3-4
  22. Lester, K. J. and Field, A.P. (2013). Laboratory Based Cognitive Measures. In B. McLeod, A. Jensen-Doss & T. Ollendick (Eds.), Handbook of Child and Adolescent Diagnostic and Behavioural Assessment.  New York: Guildford Publications, Inc.
  23. Lester, K.J., Field, A.P. and Cartwright-Hatton, S. (2012). Maternal anxiety and cognitive biases towards threat in their own and their child’s environment. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(5), 756-766. doi: 10.1037/a0029711
  24. Lester, K.J., Hudson, J.L., Tropeano, M., Creswell, C., Collier, D.A., Farmer, A., Lyneham, H.J., Rapee, R.M. & Eley, T.C. (2012). Neurotrophic gene polymorphisms and response to psychological therapy. Translational Psychiatry, 2, e108. doi: 10.1038/tp.2012.33
  25. Eley, T.C., Hudson, J.L., Creswell, C., Tropeano, M., Lester, K.J., Cooper, P., Farmer, A., Lewis, C.M., Lyneham, H.J., Rapee, R.M., Uher, R., Zavos, H.M.S., & Collier, D.A. (2012). Therapygenetics: The 5HTTLPR and response to psychological therapy. Molecular Psychiatry, 17, 236-237. doi: 10.1038/mp.2011.132
  26. Lester, K.J., Field, A.P., and Muris, P. (2011). Experimental modification of interpretation bias about animal fear in young children: Effects on cognition, avoidance behaviour, anxiety vulnerability and physiological responding. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 40(6), 864-877. doi: 10.1080/15374416.2011.618449
  27. Purkis, H.M., Lester, K.J. and Field, A.P. (2011). But what about the empress of Racnoss: The allocation of attention to spiders and Dr Who in a visual search task is predicted by fear and expertise. Emotion, 11(6), 1484-1488. doi: 10.1037/a0024415
  28. Huijding, J., Muris, P., Lester, K.J., Field, A.P., and Joosse, G. (2011). Training children to approach or avoid novel animals: Effects on self-reported attitudes and fear beliefs and information seeking behaviours. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49(10), 315-332. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2011.06.005
  29. Lester, K.J., Field, A.P., and Muris, P. (2011). Experimental modification of interpretation bias regarding social and animal fear in children. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25(5), 697-705. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2011.03.006
  30. Lester, K.J., Mathews, A., Davison, P.S., Burgess, J.L., and Yiend, J. (2011). Modifying Cognitive Errors Promotes Cognitive Well Being: A New Approach to Bias Modification. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42(3), 298-308. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2011.01.001
  31. Broeren, S., Lester, K.J., Muris, P., and Field, A.P. (2011).  She is afraid of the animal, so therefore I am too: Influence of peer modeling on fear beliefs and approach-avoidance tendencies to novel animals in typically developing children. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49(1), 50-57. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2010.11.001
  32. Field, A.P., Hadwin, J.A., and Lester, K.J. (2011). Information Processing Biases in Child and Adolescent Anxiety: Evidence and Origins. In W.K. Silverman & A.P. Field (Eds.), Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Research, Assessment and Intervention (2nd Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  33. Field, A.P. and Lester, K.J. (2010). Is there room for 'development' in developmental models of information processing biases to threat in children and adolescents? Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 13(4), 315-332. doi: 10.1007/s10567-010-0078-8
  34. Lester, K.J., Seal, K., Nightingale, Z.C. and Field, A.P. (2010). Are children’s own interpretations of ambiguous situations based on how they perceive their mothers have interpreted ambiguous situations for them in the past? Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24(1), 102-108. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2009.09.004
  35. Field, A.P. and Lester, K.J. (2010). Learning of information processing biases in anxious children and adolescents. In J. Hadwin & A. P. Field (Eds.), Information processing biases and anxiety: a developmental perspective. Chichester: Wiley.
  36. Yiend, J., Paykel, E., Merritt, R., Lester, K.J., Doll, H. and Burns, T. (2009). Long term outcome of primary care depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 118 (1), 79-86. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2009.01.026
  37. Lester, K.J., Field, A.P., Oliver, S. and Cartwright-Hatton, S. (2009).  Do anxious parent’s interpretive biases towards threat extend into their child's environment? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(2), 170-174. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2008.11.005
  38. Murphy, S.E., Yiend, J., Lester, K.J., Cowen, P.J. & Harmer, C.J. (2009) Short-term serotonergic but not noradrenergic antidepressant administration reduces attentional vigilance to threat in healthy volunteers. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 12(2), 169-179. doi: 10.1017/S1461145708009164

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